Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cash in Hand

This past weekend I went to two social events that seem worlds apart when you think about them, and yet when I experienced them I got a weird epiphany from the juxtaposition.  The first event was a fundraiser for Visionaries and Voices at the Carnegie in Covington, Kentucky.  The second was crashing a friend's bachelorette party at a drag show downtown. 

I don't know how to put this without sounding horrible, but I always get the creeps when I go to fundraisers of any kind.  Not because charitable acts of giving are taking place, but because of all the machinations and strategies that seem to have to take place just so you can court rich people into underwriting your thing.  In the movie Friends with Money, one of the characters, who is down on her luck, points out the bold-faced irony about benefits by asking her rich friend why doesn't she just write a check and not have to go to silent-auctions/awards-presentation/ the first place, saving the non-profit organization a lot of time and money that they could use to actually do the work they are supposed to do.  And her rich friend just looks back at her totally befuddled and pissed off:  "Because that's the way it's done."  End of story. 

And so it goes. 

It was great to see the artists Visionaries and Voices helps dancing and showing off their art last Saturday night at the Carnegie, and the small-talk was fine, but there was also this feeling that after the auctioneer turned off his microphone and the staff took out the trash, and everyone got what they wanted or didn't get what they wanted, the world would be sliding right back into status-quo mode.  Charity is weird like that.  It allows people to feel good in the moment and do a little something, and then forget about the whole complicated mess and move on.  It's all noble and wonderful, and yet fundraisers keep on happening and the world does not really progress that much.  Without them, though, nothing at all would happen.  "Because that's the way it's done."

Drag has that same feeling of inevitability and futility, but the drag-queens always get the joke.  They seem to understand that what they are doing is both vitally necessary to their own mental health, while completely acknowledging that the activity of drag does not change a mother-effing thing for their stations in life.  They are pretending to be people they aren't, but also are creating the persona they need in order to feel alive.  In that off-kilter mix of self-congratulation and self-knowledge and self-deprecation comes a sort of enlightenment that's sad enough to be a torch song and funky/freaky enough to go 100% trashy disco.  There's a joy in the irony at a drag show.  A truth shines through the machinations and strategies, and I think that's why Saturday night I felt more comfortable and alive  watching Mystique strut her stuff as a supersonic Missy Misdemeanor Elliott grabbing dollar bills from audience-members' hands, than witnessing acts of charity.  In the charity format there's no counterbalance, no wicked whisper, just a sense of do-gooding that yes is wonderful but also kind of momentary and self-congratulatory.  In the drag format, the artists gets the dollar-bills directly, that evening.  Cash in hand.